How to Create Excellent Courses with Open Education Resources

What are Open Education Resources (OER)?  Where does one find open resources and under what conditions can educators use them? If you don’t have an answer to one or more of these questions, you are not alone. In fact you’re in good company. Thousands of educators across the United States, academic leaders and faculty, were surveyed for a study on open educational resources, Growing the Curriculum: Open Education Resources in Higher Education, (Allen & Seaman, 2012). Though respondents demonstrated a moderate level of awareness of OER, many were unclear on what even qualified as an open education resource. The uncertainty around OER is understandable given its newness, yet is a missed opportunity for educators.

In this post I’ll first define open educational resources and describe how educators can find and use high quality, robust content sources to enhance instruction. I am an avid user of OER. I frequently use OER materials as supplemental content to enhance the general education courses I develop with faculty for our institution’s online program. I’ve also used OER when creating enrichment programs for K-12 programming, and during research as a graduate student. There is a wealth of high quality content, available and accessible at our fingertips.

Definition of Open Education Resources (OER)
Open Educational Resources abbreviated as OER, are openly formatted and licensed documents and media accessed on the Web that are useful for teaching, learning, education, assessment and research that anyone can openly use and reuse, without charge. It’s not surprising many are confused about what OER really are, as this term is similar to open education, which refers to educational organizations that seek to eliminate barriers to entry. There is also open source, which generally refers to a [software] program or application where the source code is available to the public for use and/or modification from its original design.

The three terms all refer to distinct concepts, though the word ‘open’ is the operative word, but open does not have the same meaning as ‘free’. Open in these contexts’ refers to a level of collaboration, and is associated with an object, application or program that is accessible with few barriers. The level of ownership is also included in the term, where the creator [owner] is not working under a model of proprietorship but rather chooses the level of sharing he or she is comfortable with through a license. Usage guidelines are straightforward and I’ll review the different types in the next post.

OER Materials: Examples
OER can be video clips, interactive maps or timelines, e-textbooks, self-contained multi-media lesson units, and even complete courses. I use open resources as supplements to existing courses, and have eliminated the use of text books in two of our fifteen courses using OER. I’ll review two examples of open educational resources below, and conclude with where to find similar resources.

A screen shot of the DNA – Double Helix Game. Click the image go to the game.

1) The DNA Double Helix Game: This resource is used as a supplement to a module within a biology course. The game is used as an application activity, which students complete after they finish the assigned reading The Discovery of the Molecular Structure of DNA – The Double Helix. The game overview page provides information of what students need to know before beginning. The purpose of this activity is to reinforce key concepts by engaging the student in a low stakes activity (it is not graded, and can be completed as many times as the student chooses). This is an example of using an OER as a supplemental or even optional resource.

2)  World Literature: Bhagavad Gita. This resource is comprehensive, with numerous options for educational purposes. The first step to using any OER effectively is to identify the learning objectives of the specific unit or lesson. I will use a three-credit World Literature course that I am working on now for this example. I started by reviewing the instructional plan for this module, of which the Bhagavad Gita is one of the two topics. The objectives of the module [topic] are, 1) Identify three universal themes within the Bhagavad Gita, 2) Describe how the themes apply to current culture.

World Literature Resource from learner.org

Given there is much to choose from within this resource, I determine which content items will fit the needs, then select application activities, which will prompt the student to apply and use higher order thinking skills [which supports objective #2].  For our course, the student will read the Bhagavad Gita, watch a 20 minute prerecorded video of our professor discussing background of the story and introducing the themes. From this resource for content sources, we will 1) have students read the Background and Language sections under the READ tab, 2) review the timeline and map section under the EXPLORE tab, and 3) watch the slide show and listen to expert talk about each.

For the application activity, we want students to apply the content, use critical thinking skills and demonstrate they can meet the learning objectives for this module. For this module, there will be two activities, the first will be a graded discussion forum, where students will be required to respond to a question chosen from the Discussion Prompt section using two paragraphs. We will include one more activity, an assignment where the student will be required to describe and discuss the central themes, as well describing with examples how themes apply to today’s culture.

Where to Find OER
An excellent place to search for OER content is through OER commons, (I found the above sources through OER). It is platform that is open, you do not need to sign up to find content, but if you create an account you will be able to save content into personalized folders. There is a short learning curve to figuring out how to conduct a search. Though the site is easy to use, you can narrow the search by discipline, and grade level, primary, secondary and post-secondary.  Do be prepared to spend some time reviewing what your search turns up, there is a full and complete collection. Help is available through the OER help search tool. This video provides a quick overview of how to search using OER.

Conclusion
What meant to be a short overview, ended up being longer than I’d hoped. But learning how to use OER is important, and the time invested in learning how to incorporate open education resources is time well spent given the potential enhancements to student learning. In my next post I’ll review more options for sourcing OER, provide an overview of the restrictions so you can use OER with confidence, and discuss the potential barriers to using OER.

Resources and Related Reading
OER Commons, http://www.oercommons.org/
Babson Report on OER in US Higher Education, by Phil Hill, e-literate

3 thoughts on “How to Create Excellent Courses with Open Education Resources

  1. Loved your tips on using OER in courses; thanks for sharing. Finding OERs can be one of the largest barriers to using open content. This is why we’ve created a platform to help people find OERs and use them in their coursework. We’re working everyday to make OERs more accessible and easier to modify and share. Would you mind trying us out and letting us know what you think? It’s completely free. We’re at http://www.opentapestry.com. We’d love to hear your feedback!

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